While Lollapalooza, Ozzfest and the Vans Warped Tour sometimes struggle to make their festivals work, Bonnaroo is a stone-cold success story.
As a sonic document of the 2004 Bonnaroo Festival, the CD falls a little short, as it must -- it's impossible to boil down the fest's 80 acts over three days into one double-disc release. Thankfully, Sanctuary opted for a more eclectic (and satisfying) approach, selecting a song each from 24 of the festival's acts. And the album's strength lies in its Whitman's Sampler approach. Included are legends such as Bob Dylan, Steve Winwood and David Byrne, as well as the reigning Jam Kings (the Dead, Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio) and the contenders to their thrones -- bands like Gov't Mule, Umphrey's McGee and String Cheese Incident. Throw in some rockers such as Kings of Leon, the Black Keys and My Morning Jacket; a few acoustic singer-songwriters such as Ani DiFranco, Damien Rice and Gillian Welch; and oddballs such as Primus, Ween and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and it's obvious that this set goes far beyond the Relix-flavored noodling the name Bonnaroo conjures to outsiders.
There are many truly fine moments here: Dylan and a strong backing band's muscular "Down Along the Cove," Welch's rape-revenge ballad "Caleb Meyer," Guster's harmonic "Nothing But Flowers," My Morning Jacket's inspired "One Big Holiday" and epic workouts from the Mule ("Blind Man in the Dark") and Anastasio with an orchestra ("Curfew's Call").
A few acts fall flat -- Kings of Leon's "Trani" is one of the band's weakest numbers, and moe.'s "Not Coming Down" is not their best effort -- but overall it's a wonderfully diverse showing that could've been expanded to make a nice crazy-quilt boxed set.
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